By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Update: Five hours after the release of this story the Ethics Commission confirms Vice Chair V. Larkin Martin has resigned her post.
MONTGOMERY—Alabama code Section 36-25-14 (a) states: “A statement of economic interests shall be completed and filed in accordance with this chapter with the [Ethics] commission…by…(4) Members of the Alabama Ethics Commission.”
However, as part of an ongoing search of statements of economic interests filings shows that Ethics Commission Vice-Chair, V. Larkin Martin, has never filed a statement of economic interests. Martin, who took her seat on the Commission in 2014, should have made her 2014 filing over six months ago.
Like every other commissioner, Martin received orientation on filing her statement of economic interests as well as receiving several notifications that the filings were due.
According to former Commission Director James Sumner (who was responsible for overseeing Martin’s orientation), “It is a general overview of the Commission, its history, the statutes, process, procedures, everything that has to do with the conduction of an investigation, the presentation of a case to the Commission, the finding that the Commission can render. We also go through the fact that the commissioners can render advisory opinions. Then we go through the duties and responsibilities of commissioners, they have to adhere to the law themselves, they have to file statements of economic interests and the only ‘perk’ that they get is $50 per diem [each meeting] so it is not for every day spent on commission work each time they meet which under the current schedule six times per year….And we can reimburse their expenses, mileage, etc.”
Despite having received orientation training, and several reminders that her statement of economic interests was past due, Martin has yet to file the appropriate paperwork.
Recalling the mechanics of the process, Sumner said, “These people are mainly business people and they are busy, so if you are getting down to the last two or three weeks before the deadline they certainly reminded by the chief of the Administrative Division, or somebody on the staff that ‘your filing is due April 30 be sure not to forget it.’ Reminders would be done…and a follow up after that.”
Martin has not even provided the Commission with a photograph for the Commission website, even though numerous pictures of her can be found from a simple Google image search.
Martin, a wealthy cotton baroness from Courtland, was appointed to the commission by Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey in 2013. “Ms. Martin demonstrates an outstanding personal and work ethic. I am confident she will render a valuable service on this important Commission,” said Lieutenant Governor Ivey.
Martin was confirmed by the Alabama Senate on January 23, 2014 to serve a term on the Alabama Ethics Commission that began on September 1, 2013, and ends on August 31, 2018. Her statement of economic interests was due no later than April 30, 2015. As of this report, no such filing has been listed with the Ethics Commission.
State Code Section 36-25-14 (d) states: “If the information required herein is not filed as required, the commission shall notify the public official or public employee concerned as to his or her failure to so file and the public official or public employee shall have 10 days to file the report after receipt of the notification. The commission may, in its discretion, assess a fine of ten dollars ($10) a day, not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000), for failure to file timely.”
State Code Section 36-25-14 (e) states: “A person who intentionally violates any financial disclosure filing requirement of this chapter shall be subject to administrative fines imposed by the commission, or shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, or both.”
These are the laws as outlines under satute which the commission is sworn to uphold and enforce.
“They must follow the same rules as everyone else,” said former Director Sumner.
The State’s required statement of economic interests are a means to allow the public a window into the financial interests of those who are charged with doing the public’s business.
Lately, Ethics Commission Director Tom Albritton has publicly stated that he was interested in altering the required statement of economic interests, to make it easier and less confusing, something that Speaker Mike Hubbard championed after this publication revealed many of his family’s business interactions in 2013.
Hubbard, who is currently under indictment for 23 felon counts of public corruption, has tried to have the ethics form and laws changes to his benefit.
That Albritton is now calling for changes to the form should raise serious concerns in the legislature, where one of its own is charged with felony crimes.
Martin’s failure to file her statement of economic interests should also raise concerns about a commission whose sworn duty is to uphold and enforce the ethics laws of the State.
Martin is the managing partner at Martin Farm, an operation that covers around 7,000 acres of owned and rented land growing cotton, corn and other seed crops. In the latest USDA figures, Martin Farms has received $10,094,177 in Cotton Subsidies, and a total of $12,441,187 from all Federal Subsidies provided to her business interests.
According to her Market Watch profile, Martin is also Vice President of the Albemarle Corporation. She is on the Board of Directors at Rayonier, Inc., Cottonseed LLC, Business Council of Alabama, Farm Foundation, Alabama Ethics Commission, and Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and was previously employed as Chairman by Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and Chairman by Cotton Board. She also served on the board at Servico, Inc.
According to another biography, after graduating from Vanderbilt University in 1985 with a BA degree in European History, she moved to Washington, DC and held jobs at the US Treasury Department and with Arthur Andersen. She is married to John Thornton and they have 4 children.
Martin took over the family business after the passing of her father, various reports state. “Early on, it was obvious to many of Larkin’s friends that the young girl who always wore a baseball cap probably wouldn’t make farming her life’s career. Still, she remained unfazed by any task she confronted on the farm as a child. And it’s a good thing she had that kind of attitude. It would become critically important when she returned home in the early 1990s to help run the business.”
A 2008 report in Cotton Incorporated under the headline, “Local Cotton Producer Redefines Gender Roles and Agriculture,” Martin, “worked in the Treasury Department as a scheduler for James Baker. Then, an acquaintance left his job as a commercial real estate appraiser, and Martin was hired to replace him. That’s what she was doing when she got a life-altering call: her father was terminally ill.”
Martin has modernized her family’s crop farming operation in Lawrence County, and has traveled the world as an Eisenhower fellow, blogging from Kenya and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Martin’s failure to comply with ethics rules is part of an ongoing investigation into statements of economic interests. One recent report found when Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) entered the Senate, he listed no consulting contracts on his statement of economic interest. As of his latest filing, he has 43.
Other reports to follow…